by Len Lear
I doubt if many white Americans are familiar with a phenomenon called “Colorism.” Having worked at the Philadelphia Tribune from 1967 to 1977, however, I learned that there have been social organizations made up of light-skinned African Americans who literally would not offer membership to another African American person, no matter how meritorious, whose skin color was darker than that of a brown paper bag.
A few years ago, I read a superb book called “Same Family, Different Colors,” by 13-year Mt. Airy resident Lori L. Tharps, an associate professor of journalism at Temple University, award-winning author, freelance journalist and popular speaker, which dealt with that phenomenon.
“I have received wonderful feedback about the book,” Tharps told us last week, “including a glowing review in the New York Times. What really makes me proud, though, is the feedback I get from readers who say they never knew Colorism was an issue, and now they are going to pay more attention to skin color bias.”
Tharps will be launching the “My American Meltingpot” podcast on Friday, Nov. 23, which started as a blog 12 years ago. The blog’s tagline is “A multi-cultural mix of pop culture + parenting + identity politics.”
Tharps, 46, grew up in the Midwest but left home to attend Smith College, graduating in 1994, and then moved to New York City, where she earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1997.
“I started my blog because I just wanted to have a space where I could write about the issues I found most compelling,” Tharps said. “Often times these issues revolved around race, identity and culture and weren’t of interest to the mainstream media.
“Having my own blog gave me the freedom to not only write about what I wanted but also to interact directly with my audience. Even if only a couple hundred people were reading the blog, I felt motivated to keep writing because I knew they enjoyed my work …
“Having the blog kept me motivated and made me really feel that in my own small way I was helping to change the world by changing the narrative around race and identity in this country.”
Tharps is launching the My American Meltingpot podcast because “as a journalist, I believe it is my responsibility to tell stories that expand the narrative of race and culture in this country beyond rancor and strife.
“As a Black woman, married to a Spanish man raising three bi-racial children, whose life experience is often absent from mainstream media outlets, I want to create content that reflects the world the way I see it in colors beyond black and white.
“The podcast, like my blog of the same title, is my way to tell stories that center diversity. Plus, I’ve always wanted to have my own radio show, and now I can!”
Tharps is starting the podcast bimonthly, with new episodes being released every other Friday, but by season two, she would like to be producing a new episode every week.
Tharps has also written for many major magazines. “The magazine piece that was the most memorable for me was the story I wrote for a travel magazine (that sadly no longer exists) about Spain’s hidden history of African slaves. I felt like a history detective as I toured southern Spain looking for artifacts that proved Black people had lived in Spain in the 17th and 18th centuries. “That article eventually became the basis for my book, ‘Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love and Spain (Atria),’ and it completely changed the way I see Spain even today.”
What was the hardest thing Tharps ever had to do? “The hardest physical thing I ever had to do was give birth to my three children. The hardest mental challenge I ever faced was making it through the tenure process at my university. But I’m happy to say my children are healthy and happy, and I was awarded tenure two years ago.”
What is the best advice Tharps ever received? “My mother-in-law always says, ‘Todo tiene solucion menos la muerte.’ Everything has a solution except death. That helps me when I think I’m facing an insurmountable challenge because I am reminded that there is a solution to every problem, so all I have to do is take a breath and figure it out. “Also, when I’m feeling really down, like thinking things just couldn’t get any worse, I think, actually, it could be worse. You could be dead, and then there really would be no way out of this situation. So, be thankful for that. You’re not dead …
“I know this sounds extremely boring for a writer, but my favorite thing to do in my spare time is to read. I love books. I love spending time in the bookstore and library. I also love to travel, so my ideal situation would be to travel to one of my favorite destinations, like Lisbon, Portugal and sit on the beach and read all day. I would end the day with a delicious but simple meal.”
But if Tharps could spend time with anyone on earth, it would be Oprah Winfrey. “I would just want her to lay her super successful hands on me and pass on all of her good juju. And then I’d like to just sit and talk with her while we ate bread.”
For more information, visit loritharps.com